Although many individuals and organizations are doing their best to get back to business as usual (or as close to usual as possible), the coronavirus outbreak is still very much a cause for concern in the workplace. COVID-19 mandates are constantly changing and it’s crucial that employers establish workplace health and safety measures during these uncertain times.
Whether your company is still working out the kinks of a remote workforce or your team is back in the office, there are actions you can take to prepare for COVID-19 issues and protect your employees. Check out these preliminary planning steps, then read on for seven tips for keeping everyone safe and healthy in the face of the coronavirus.
How to Prepare Your Workplace for COVID-19 Disruptions
As the seasons change and we continue to learn about the coronavirus, what comes next is uncertain—but you can put plans in place to keep your company agile. The CDC recommends the following:
- Nominate a workplace coordinator who is comfortable monitoring COVID-19 issues and their effects on the workplace. This person should keep up with regulation changes and update all staff accordingly.
- Identify essential employees, business functions, and other key components (e.g.: raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics). Think of how you can continue business operations if there are disruptions.
- Create plans to keep business going in cases of significant absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, or changes in the way you need to conduct business.
- Establish an emergency communication plan. Identify key contacts (with back-ups), a chain of communication (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating about business and employee status.
- Share your response plans and expectations with employees if COVID-19 occurs in areas where you have a workplace.
8 Tips to Ensure Workplace Health and Safety During Coronavirus
Once you have procedures outlined, you should take measures to keep employees healthy and keep your business functioning.
Encourage sick employees to stay/go home.
Employees should stay or return home if they have:
- Symptoms of acute respiratory illness
- Fever of 100.4 F or higher using an oral thermometer
- Signs of a fever
- Any other COVID-19-related symptoms
Individuals should be free of the above symptoms for at least 24 hours without the use of symptom-altering medicines like fever-reducers and cough suppressants.
Don’t require a doctor’s note for those sick with acute respiratory illness. Healthcare providers are extremely busy and may not be able to provide documentation in a timely manner.
The same goes for contractors and temporary workers, who should also remain healthy or stay home if they are sick. Discuss this with staffing companies or contractors you work with to find out what COVID-19 precautions they are taking. Encourage them to establish non-punitive emergency sick leave options as well.
Review and develop flexible policies for scheduling and leave.
Part of encouraging sick employees to stay home includes developing flexible policies so that workers can take leave without fear of retaliation. This should include non-punitive scheduling and telecommuting (where possible) policies. Employees should be able to stay home to care for sick family members or to care for children if schools and childcare close.
As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the government enacted Expanded Family Care Leave and Emergency Paid Sick Leave. These benefits are meant to help businesses help their employees by providing additional leave and supplemental income during this time. Make sure you know how these benefits work by reading our previous blog posts, then communicate them to your employees.
Create clear and consistent remote work policies.
Whether your business is still new to remote work or your team has been telecommuting for several months, you should answer the following questions:
Is your business equipped to telecommute?
Make sure employees have the proper technology and equipment to successfully work from home. You’ll also need a powerful and secure network.
Which employees are eligible for remote work?
Determine who is able to work from home based on their job duties, department needs, rank, seniority, or other non-discriminatory factors (particularly if it is not possible to offer telework to all employees).
Give thoughtful consideration to requests to telework from employees with underlying conditions that qualify as ADA disabilities. These individuals likely have valid concerns that exposure to COVID-19 could pose a health risk to them.
How will you ensure accountability?
A successful remote work relationship requires both trust and accountability. Communicate expectations and telecommuting policies to employees from Day 1. This includes work hours, methods and frequency of reports and communication, and productivity expectations. Employers should also have timekeeping procedures and tools in place for non-exempt employees, who should be recording all hours worked.
Encourage safe practices in the workplace.
Post signage encouraging staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other spots where it will be seen. Instruct employees to wash their hands in soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or to use hand sanitizer. It’s basic, we get it, but sometimes people need a reminder!
Supply the following throughout your workplace:
- Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol
- Antibacterial soap at all sinks
- No-touch trash receptacles
- Face masks
Ensure physical distancing of at least six feet and space employee workstations accordingly. This may require adjustments to workstations, common spaces, or transport vehicles. Consider staggered schedules or split teams to maintain a certain number of people in the workplace at a time.
When physical distancing is not feasible, employees should wear face masks and other PPE if necessary (e.g.: screens or sneeze guards).
Include thermal testing as part of your precautions, but don’t rely on it as the only measure. Temperature screening cannot detect all cases of COVID-19 because some infected individuals may not have a fever immediately.
Clean the workplace regularly.
Clean and disinfect all commonly used surfaces with the cleaning agents you normally use in these areas. This includes:
- Bathroom facilities
Provide disposable cleaning wipes for employees to use on their desks and equipment. Advise people not to share tools and equipment if possible.
Consider the need for travel and explore alternatives.
If your employees are planning to travel, advise them to check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health notices for the latest guidance and recommendations based on where they intend to travel.
Workers should also check for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before traveling. If they are sick, they should stay home, notify their supervisor, and call their doctor if necessary.
Ideally, companies should opt for teleconferencing and video conferencing as much as possible during this time. Encourage your employees to limit business travel, especially to areas with many coronavirus cases.
Implement a self-quarantine policy requiring employees to stay home for 14 days if they do have to travel to regions with a high risk of the coronavirus. Be sure to expand remote work options for those who need to self-quarantine.
Review your employees’ rights, duties, and responsibilities with them.
Make sure your team is aware and educated about the required COVID-19 workplace health and safety measures. Once they are aware of the policies, workers are responsible for following these rules and attending any training you provide.
Employees should inform their supervisor if they have any concerns about their health or safety in the workplace. Make sure they know that they have the right to remove themselves from any such work situation (with reasonable justification) and that they will not receive undue consequences as a result of exercising this right.
Protect Your Company & Employees Against COVID-19
Workplace health and safety has taken on a whole new meaning throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. It takes commitment and participation from all employees in order to keep everyone healthy. Follow the planning and tips above and communicate policies clearly to all workers. Communication is key during this complicated time.
If you need more guidance on how to keep your team safe during this time, contact BlueLion’s human resources professionals today at 603-818-4131 or [email protected]. We will help you manage any health and safety concerns that arise and help you stay updated on the latest coronavirus mandates.